Lyoto Machida is set to begin a new chapter in his career this Saturday at Fight Night 30 in Manchester, England.
The former light heavyweight champion has abandoned the light heavyweight division for the time being, a weight class where he's held the title and been a perennial contender since 2008, to test the waters in the 185-pound fold. While "The Dragon" hasn't committed to a full-time run at middleweight just yet, the first step he will take into those waters will come at the deep end of the pool as he is set to face a tough test in resurgent contender Mark Munoz.
Where he was originally slated to face Tim Kennedy for his middleweight debut at Fight for the Troops 3 on Nov. 6, an eye injury suffered by Michael Bisping left the UFC's return to the U.K. with an open slot in the main event. Despite the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" being a good friend and former training partner, Machida didn't hesitate when the UFC came to call, and a new headlining tilt for the card was made.
While the 36-year-old former strap holder admits it will be strange to face Munoz inside the Octagon, he is confident it will be all business when the cage door closes.
"It's very weird for me to fight a guy who is my friend but it is part of the job," Machida told Bleacher Report. "As a professional, I'm not thinking about that. I just focus on the fight. At the gym, you can fight each other in hard training, but now you can do real sparring. I'll do my best to make it a great fight.
"People can expect my best performance. I'm debuting at 185 and this is a new chapter in my career. We will see on Saturday but I want people to expect the best from me."
As Machida prepares to make his official middleweight debut on Saturday, it is a situation that will come with a unique amount of pressure. He is coming off a loss—albeit a questionable one— to Phil Davis at UFC 163 in August in a bout that was "make or break" where his immediate status as a title contender in the light heavyweight division was concerned.
Prior to his loss to the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler, the Team Black House fighter had collected back-to-back victories for the first time since 2009. Yet, with the 205-pound division becoming increasingly competitive over the past year, his setback against Davis put him on the outside looking in at the upper tier of the light heavyweight collective.
With that situation in mind, Machida was quick to find a remedy, and decided to make the drop down to the middleweight division. While he hasn't shut the door on a possible return to light heavyweight, he refuses to focus on the negative aspects of the losses he's suffered. Instead, Machida invests his time and energy into getting back into the win column.
"I just try to improve my skills for the next fight," Machida said. "I try to improve my power and my will power. It doesn't matter if I lost. I try to do those things because they are very important for an MMA fight. Everyday you have to wake up, go to the gym and train very hard. When they offered me the middleweight fight it is a new moment for my career. I hope to do great and do my best. That's why I'm here.
"Depending on the fights I get I can go back and forth," he added. "I can fight at 205 as well, but it depends on the UFC and what they ask of me. I'll be ready for anything."
Despite suffering four losses in his last seven fights, Machida remains one of MMA's most difficult puzzles to solve. His mastery of timing and spacial difference allows him to close ground on the opposition in rapid fashion and land his strikes with power and precision, all the while staying at a safe distance out of harm's way.
That said, there has been somewhat of a blueprint laid on how to fight the former champion. In addition to Davis' approach to their bout in Brazil, former Pride and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson used a similar attack when he faced Machida at UFC 157 back in February. Both fought with patience and were seemingly more than happy to take the fight to the judge's scorecards.
It is a situation he's certainly aware of and believes he's made the proper adjustments to his attack heading into Saturday's bout with Munoz.
"I think so," Machida responded when asked about a blueprint to face him. "People don't want to come in anymore. They want to stay there and wait for an opportunity. They wait for me to make a mistake and they try to catch it. This time I am going to try to be different. I will try to be more aggressive with my punches and kicks. I will try takedowns as well and make this an MMA fight. The people I fight are aware about me for sure, but that is not a problem for me."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.